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Opinions of Monday, 22 September 2003

Columnist: Awortwi-Mensah, Paul

Jornalism Thrown To the Dogs

Ever since Mr. Komla Dumor was controversially declared Journalist of the Year 2000/2001 by the Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) Awards Committee on August 21, 2003, his award has generated arguments and rejection unprecedented in the history of journalistic scrutiny.

The argument has been that Dumor is not a trained journalist. Others argue that it is not worthy for somebody to win such a prestigious award with a single story.

The Ghana News Agency (GNA), New Times Corporation (NTC), Graphic Communications Group Limited (GCGL) and TV3 News Network Chapters of the GJA, as well as Ghanaian professional journalists living in North America, especially those in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, have all opposed Dumor's award.

Looking into all these protests, what interest me most is the definition of who a journalist is? Almost all the protesters defined a journalist as: "someone who has undergone journalism training and has acquired a certificate or degree and as such is qualified to practice as a journalist".

These protesters went further to look for definitions of other professions like teaching, medicine, law, among others. All the definitions pointed to people undergoing specific training in their respective fields, acquiring recognized certification or license to practice their respective professions.

If these definitions and assertions are true, then the question is: "Is Komla Dumor a journalist?" The answer is obviously a "Big No". If the answer is no, then why was he given this prestigious award which is reserved for hardworking professional journalists?

Let me ask the GJA Awards Committee and the GJA executives this simple question: "Can a journalist who has no formal training in teaching be awarded the Best Teachers' Award?

Can a journalist who reports extensively on farming or agriculture be nominated and subsequently awarded the National Best Farmer on Farmers' Day?.

If the answer is no, then how can journalists remain silent for a radio presenter to be given such a prestigious award that belongs to journalists? We should not throw the profession to the dogs.

What I find amazing about the nomination of Dumor is what the Chairperson of the awards committee, Dr Audrey Gadzekpo told journalists at a press conference as regards the criteria used in nominating the award winners.

According to Gadzekpo, "the criteria included accuracy, relevance, clarity, language, background research, among others".

She said "the committee had five nominations from the public for the Best Journalist of the Year Award and was pleased about the diversity of the nominees.

My problem is, how can the general public nominate somebody for such an award if the public do not know whether the person is a journalist or not?

I believe even if the public made such nominations, the committee made up of journalists should have realized that some of the nominees are not journalists, and that such nominations should have been nullified.

I will dwell a little on the "golden story" that won the award for Mr. Dumor.

In a protest statement issued by the New Times Corporation Chapter of the GJA signed by its general-secretary, Mr. Dave Agbenu, the chapter placed on record that the story for which Komla Dumor was given the award was first carried on the front page of the "Evening News" with the headline: "SSNIT waste 30 billion cedis on hotel". That story was written by Francis Assuah.

The chapter further stated that there was a follow up story on the same matter written by its reporter, Kofi Boakye.

Guided by this information, the question I asked myself was, is it fair for others to search for news (stories) only for a radio presenter to capitalize on them to win an award?

This serves as a disincentive for progressive journalists who go out to search for good stories. This is a typical example of "monkey dey work, baboon dey chop". It is not neat.

The way Mr. Dumor presented a story already published by the "Evening News" on his talk show looked as if he was the one who went out to search for the news. This kills initiative as no credit was given to the paper or the reporters who first broke the news.

In some circles, this would have amounted to plagiarism or copyright which is an offence punishable by law. Interestingly, he was given the best journalist award. Thanks to the GJA.

The revelation by the NTC Chapter of the GJA, coupled with protests from various media houses and journalists, I wonder why the GJA could not postpone the award ceremony, paving the way for investigations , after all, "who the cap fits must wear it".

I believe if the GJA had set up a committee to look into the nominations, protests, and the award, it would have saved the profession some good.

If the GJA could set up a committee to look into the eligibility of its President-elect, Mr. Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh, filed by a defeated member, why could it not set up a committee to look into Mr. Dumor's eligibility and the Best Journalist of the Year Award?.

The GJA should know, that "what is good for the goose is also good for the gander".

If an organization such as the GJA would remain defiant and ignore protests by many of its members on this issue, wherein lies the integrity and fairness it claims to uphold?

By keeping the award despite protests by media houses and journalists, Mr. Dumor has presented himself as a broadcaster without shame, the opposite of how he portrays himself to many Ghanaians and the world.

In most of his talk shows and radio presentations, Dumor called on people whose positions have been challenged or those who have been protested against for one reason or the other to relinquish their positions if they were honourable men. It is now his turn.

Investigations have also revealed that Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, host of Joy FM's programme, "Front Page" was initially nominated for the award but he wrote to the committee stating that he had already won the award twice, and that there was no need for a third award.

Sakyi-Addo suggested that the award should be given to someone else. This is a mark of a self-made man, not a greedy and opportunistic person like Komla Dumor who has emphatically stated that he is not a journalist, and yet he accepted an award reserved for journalists. What a paradox!

I know most journalists would have been happier if the Best Journalist of the Year Award had been given to Mrs. Isabella Gyau-Orhin, bearing in mind that for the past four years, she had won one or two awards at every GJA awards night. It is time the GJA recognized the contribution of women in the profession.

The Sports Writers Association of Ghana (SWAG), this year broke the deadlock by presenting the Sports Personality of the Year Award to a female. That was the first time in the history of SWAG.

This is not to suggest that the award should be presented on a silver platter. I am convinced Isabella has distinguished herself over the years. She deserves a prestigious award.

I also support Yaw Boadu-Ayeboafoh's campaign message, that the GJA should work hard to flush out unscrupulous and unprofessional people who parade as journalists.

I support Ato Aidoo's idea, that those who want to be called journalists should go back to school and have formal training to practice journalism.

For now, professional journalists are waiting for the day when one of the many "quack" journalists who hop from one assignment to the other for personal gains, would be easily given the Best Journalist of the Year Award after the Komla Dumor fiasco.

The author was a former court correspondent for the Daily Graphic in Accra, Ghana. He now lives in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.